Political Marketing & Advertising

All Political Views Are Imperfect

Political Differences Come From Non-political Sources

Here is one take by Jonathan Haidt on the differences between conservatives and liberals...it may not be entirely correct, but an interesting take nonetheless.

"Truth" & the Reptilian Brain

During the last election I saved mail spam that was sent to my house. One of the pieces claimed that John Kerry was the most liberal member of congress. What does it mean to be "the most liberal member of congress"?

When a person I know well reminded me that "Obama is bad for America, and the most liberal member of congress" I showed them the matching attack ad mail pieces from 2004 and 2008.

Once the political marketers find a story that triggers the reptilian brain they stick with it...but it is hard to get people to see past their own biases when the reptilian brain is activated. They just want to yell at you or punch you, apparently because it is easier than being logical.

A couple years ago the Neuromarketing blog referenced a study about political marketing:

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.”

The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.

Market Idealisms Are False

Sometimes politics causes fights that are unneeded, as the reptilian portions of our brains fight each other based on emotions and ideological errors that push for "the truth." But the end game of unrestrained belief in a strategy creates a heavily flawed system that leads toward self-destruction until the pendulum swings in the other direction. And, as the pendulum swings from one direction to the next short term opportunistic businesses look for "legitimate" ways to fraud people. Unregulated markets end up no better than the worst parts of socialism.

BILL MOYERS:One of the British newspapers this morning had a headline, "Welcome to Socialism." It's not going that way, is it?

GEORGE SOROS:Well, you know, it's very interesting. Actually, these market fundamentalists are making the same mistake as Marx did. You see, socialism would have worked very well if the rulers had the interests of the people really at heart. But they were pursuing their self-interests. Now, in the housing market, the people who originated the houses earned the fee.

And the people who then owned the mortgages their interests were not actually looked after by the agents that were selling them the mortgages. So you have a, what is called an agent principle problem in socialism. And you have the same agent principle problem in this free market fundamentalism.

Form Your Vision of the Truth, Then Compile Anecdotal Evidence

Revisionist History

People who do not understand the mortgage market meltdown like to claim liberal were at fault, offering quotes like this one, when the truth was that the fallout was caused by unrestrained greed, excessive leverage, low interest rates, and short term opportunism.

To Win, Politicians Must Lie

The party ideals have little to do with what the individuals intend to do because politicians are first and foremost marketers. To be a successful politician at the highest level in the United States being a liar is a prerequisite.

And that’s what we have in America today, only one side. Everybody’s on his own side, only speaking to himself, like-minded people. Who’s going to change the equation? Certainly not politicians, elected officials. Obama’s got to say he’s for drilling to get elected, because the person paying four bucks a gallon doesn’t know that it’ll take eons for said oil to reach the pump. We’ve got the businessmen raping and pillaging, the politicians lying, at best being expedient, and the only people we can count on to speak the truth have abdicated their power, their duty, their role. That’s what the job of the artist is. To question authority, challenge convention, speak the unpopular, if it’s the truth.

Clarity Wins

If politicians are well organized and articulate they should not need to spend much on advertising to get their message to spread. Consider how old the Keating 5 story is, and yet just the recent announcement of it lead to millions of video views, which lead to more media coverage. Politicians have the ability to create search volume out of thin air and make up new keywords simply by using them.


How Framing Works

Rather than being focused on getting the facts straight, politicians focus on idea association through naming. If you want to misinform and misdirect the consumer, rather than using the name "estate tax" you could rebrand the concept as "death tax" and then begin trashing it.

Can You Re-frame Issues?

John Kerry is sponsoring a site called Truth Fights Back, aiming to counter some anti-Obama claims. The site is raising money to be marketed on AdWords. But politicians connecting with people online should be able to spread their messages organically and virally...ads would not be as effective as encouraging linking and quoting. Also a big error that is made in "advertising the truth" is that by referencing the frame of thought and words of the liar you are giving into their framing.

If nothing else, Truth Fights Back is an indication that John Kerry still has no idea why he lost the election. If one wanted to fight McCain's lies a better brand would be something like How To Lie...with McCain's picture and personal brand stamped all over it.

Most people online multi-task. They read the headline, maybe skim a bit, and draw a conclusion. If you use headlines for misdirections (or quote others who are doing so) then people still associate the topics. For example, if you wrote an article stating Obama is not a Muslim then many people will still think Obama and Muslim are associated.

Put another way...

"A lie told often enough becomes truth" - Vladimir Lenin

If Obama wanted to re-brand the religious stuff he could do things like Huckabee did in this video...subtly hint another story without directly addressing the lies.

Rather than saying x is not true, it is best to just convey a different image.

A One Word Brand

Maurice Saatchi wrote:

The word is the saviour because in each category of global business, it will only be possible for one brand to own one particular word. And some of them have already been booked. Each brand can only own one word. Each word can only be owned by one brand. Take great care before you pick your word. It is going to be the god of your brand.

Within a brand you can of course have sub-brands and sub-products, but if you are going for a big launch you really want to make sure you pick the strategy and make it consistent with the larger brand strategy.

If the global brand strategy is built on ideas like openness and sharing, and then later introducing secrecy, that cuts away at past marketing efforts. There was a good example of this in the SEO industry where many people felt they were lied to and/or mislead. And if the marketing would have been consistent throughout that feeling of betrayal would not exist.

Great Books on Framing & Word Usage

A large part of why Al Gore and John Kerry lost to George W Bush was because they were too stiff and programmed. The Republican party is much better at crafting phrases the evoke emotions.Two great books that talk about political framing and using words to evoke emotions are George Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant (left leaning) and Frank Luntz's Words That Work (right leaning). Reading either of those (or better yet, both) will teach you more about marketing than most marketing blogs or books ever could.

Published: October 22, 2008 by Aaron Wall in


October 23, 2008 - 5:12am


October 23, 2008 - 11:53pm

Love the blog when it comes to SEO, but not so much for this kind of political stuff. Any way to separate them out?

Incidentally, it's entirely possible for Kerry to have been the most liberal member of Congress (by voting record) in 2004, and then for Obama to be the most liberal member of Congress today (again by voting record). Obama wasn't yet in Congress in 2004, of course.

Really, I'm not sure what your point is in the first paragraph of this post. The rest is also a bit curious, including your choice to highlight George Soros as a legimitate arbiter between socialism and capitalism (I mean, couldn't you find someone who's at all impartial?)...

October 24, 2008 - 12:43am

I aim to offend early and often. Just kidding ;)

Incidentally, it's entirely possible for Kerry to have been the most liberal member of Congress (by voting record) in 2004, and then for Obama to be the most liberal member of Congress today (again by voting record).

2 equally correct responses...

  • I agree. The same attack is valid every 4 years because it is sponsored by a think tank aiming to get their party in office.
  • Not really. If they deviated too far from center they would not have made it to the point of being one of the 2 final candidates.

The point of the post was that politics are flawed and the marketing is geared toward the reptilian parts of the brain. And politicians are good marketers who are good at using words...the post was an excuse for recommending those 2 books mentioned in the final paragraph.

October 24, 2008 - 2:58am

Funny, it is the political posts that I only comment on :-)

For me personally, both parties are too blame equally because neither party cares about us, the mere people who elect them.

If a Republican says that the sky is blue then a democrat will say it is red and vice versa just to oppose the other parties point of view.

While the presidential election is important the president truly has very little power to do anything in the way of change. They are little more than a figure head. Making promises and proposals that have almost zero chance of ever coming to pass.

Me, I would much rather see term limits placed on the clowns (both parties I'm talking about here) in the House and Senate so we can get some actual "change" happening. Honestly how can we as a people expect any sort of change when the same knuckleheads (dems and repubs) make our laws over decades?

Simply, you can't.

And while I agree completely that many companies took advantage of people in this mortgage mess I also think that the same amount of blame falls on the shoulders of people who felt it was smart to get a 500k mortgage on a 50K salary.

It is very very very easy to blame faceless super wealthy companies but at some point personal responsibility must come into play.

I mean I was listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio today and some guy called in that had $115K in credit card debt!!!! My first thought is the guy is a nimrod quickly followed by the companies giving this guy more credit are nimrods!

At the end of the day it looks like those of us (again repubs and dems) that pay our bills, are financially responsible, educate ourselves about what is best for us and our future are left to foot the bill while people who made poor decisions and didn't think, all in an effort to keep up with the Joneses get bailed out.

The end result, people who have not learned to live and deal with mistakes and how to overcome them but have rather learned that all they have to do is wait with hand out for someone to bail them out.

Sadly, I feel my vote is completely wasted on either candidate but vote I will.

Man, I feel better now!!

Ted M
October 25, 2008 - 3:59am

"While the presidential election is important the president truly has very little power to do anything in the way of change. They are little more than a figure head. Making promises and proposals that have almost zero chance of ever coming to pass."

I'm sorry to hear you say that.
The president sets the tone of our country.
Words from the worst president in US history. "Go shopping"

"The end result, people who have not learned to live and deal with mistakes and how to overcome them but have rather learned that all they have to do is wait with hand out for someone to bail them out."

Although, I agree with that.

October 24, 2008 - 8:13pm

It is interesting to delve into the origins of why we think, believe, and behave in ways that place us into identifiable groups (Ok, so the new buzz word is "tribes"...what was that you were saying about framing and brand usage...).

Another fascinating aspect of all this is our tendency to discount our own sense of how we can confirm to the ideologies and norms of our groups. I think many people can read this post or other information about such ideas and think - "yeah, I can see how that works." Yet at the same time human nature tends to lead us to see how it fits other people rather than seeing how we ourselves fit with these paradigms. Many people, if asked, would say they are not strongly influenced by peer pressure, conformity, etc.

Falling into groups seems to be easy while the other end of this, practicing enlightened self awareness, is much more difficult.

Anyway, I also thought that TED talk was really good, as so many of them are.

October 24, 2008 - 10:26pm

Too true lubertazzi. Sometimes I dislike things because they scare me, but when I reflect back on some of them I think part of the fear was the realization of some of my own flaws that the movie (or other stimuli) helped activate.

Ted M
October 25, 2008 - 3:51am

I find following the political marketing strategies very interesting also Aaron. I agree that the Republican party is better at finding emotional key phrase. However, I've noticed that the majority of them are negative.

Check out this video http://www.vimeo.com/1891426

“Vote For Hope” was written to encourage and inspire the hip hop generation—and everyone—to get involved, and contribute their time, energy, creativity, and other resources to be the change they want to see in the world. Barack Obama represents the change we need and can lead us into a brighter future."

The youth of our country use to hold protests, marches and political rallies to get their message out and be heard. A less sexy but possibly more effective way to be heard in a digital age is simply join the discussion. Send e-mails to your friends. Spread your thoughts through the world without leaving your dorm room. I saw this great video and was looking for a way to help support Obama for president. So I started a small marketing campaign.

Ted M

October 25, 2008 - 9:04pm

I agree that the easiest way to start making a difference is to engage in the debate and connect with people one at a time.

October 25, 2008 - 10:24am

Hi Aaron,

this reminds me of something I once asked you a long time ago..that Google using the "don't be evil line" might be a bad strategy, because technically that'll make people associate them with "evil", as people tend to filter out words such as "not" and "don't".

I've wondered about this a little bit (whenever I hear words/phrases like that) and I believe that it's not necessarily true (or well if it happens on a subconscious level I might not notice it).

I think the filtering out of "nots" and "donts" is really just true for some things.

For example, when I started learning about SEO (and didn't understand this stuff well enough, yet) I read something like "Hell No, SEO is not going to die out anytime soon", but the reaction in my brain was more like "Yeah he's right, it won't......but what if?". So despite the person claiming the opposite it made me think of just that.

Another great example (not sure if it works in English the same way as it does in German) is the word "tumor". There are good tumors (totally harmless and tumor is really just a medical description) and bad tumors. However, if somebody says "good tumor" many people will sort of totally filter out the word "good" and will simply hear "tumor" and think "OH MY GOD!".

So, I think the whole "DON'T think of an elephant" or "DON'T be evil" thing and whether it backfires on the company using it depends a lot on the rest of the phrase. With Google it doesn't seem like it had any kind of effect and made people (other than SEOs) think Google actually is evil.

October 25, 2008 - 9:01pm

There are people outside of SEOs that think Google acts in anti-competitive ways. Consider how Google recently cloned Yamil's service, then started giving that service free AdWords advertisements against Yamil's brand.

Once you control search you have a huge competitive advantage in any other category you want to compete in. Tons of examples, like Google Checkout, etc. Some of them may not be evil, but some of them are quite sleazy.

October 27, 2008 - 5:28pm


I think you should stay away from political topics because you seem a bit biased in your views. You mention a great deal about Obama's flawed "truths", but don't mention much about McCain's shortcomings.

If you were more objective and actually did some fact checking, you'd realize that McCain's "truths" were way more far-fetched and occurred more often.

Aaron...be straight forward. You make more than $250K a year, so you favor McCain.

October 27, 2008 - 6:37pm

Hi Broadspring
Did you even notice how I used the phrase "liberal quotes" and then linked off to a George Bush quote? My point was that all politicians at the highest level are lying scum - a requirement to gain enough capital and exposure to compete. The powers that be do not like an honest individual like Ron Paul.

so you favor McCain

I used to be in the military and could never vote for a war-monger on principal. Good job guessing my motives, but you are completely wrong.

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